I work a few days a week as a professional chef and, at 66, I am the same age as many of my young co-workers’ grandmothers. It’s challenging sometimes, but mostly it’s fun, invigorating and keeps me feeling and acting younger than I really am.
One of the servers shared with me that she had enrolled in a month-long backpack trip as part of her first semester of college and, knowing I hike often, asked for training recommendations before her trip. I offered to show her some of my favorite hikes and she enthusiastically accepted. She’s 19.
It did occur to me that I may be asking too much from my body to keep up with someone so young, strong and fit, but I decided to give it a try and see if I could. We enjoyed our first hike together very much, and discovered we have a similar pace and stamina.
We’ve now completed eight weeks of fairly ambitious hikes and she is off to her adventure, and I find myself enthusiastically hiking more on my own and feeling encouraged to seek out more challenging trails.
I’ve been thinking about what it takes to stay vital and relevant to those who are much younger, and I have come up with a few ideas about how we can engage the company of young people despite the age difference.
Ask about their interests, talk about your hobbies, seek out what you have in common. For instance, this could be the latest book you’ve both read, favorite foods, travel experiences — anything to begin to form a connection between the two of you.
Don’t talk about your latest surgery or malady. It might be comforting to compare notes and seek support from your peers, but most young people enjoy good health without giving it much thought. So it’s not at all in their frame of reference.
Ask about their life, but don’t grill them about school, their life plans, or their relationships. They’ve just started out and they’re already under enough pressure to make those big life decisions.
If you want someone to open up to you, give them time and opportunity. Ask open-ended questions and, once they start talking, listen intently and keep your responses neutral and supportive.
Respond positively and with compassion no matter what they confide in you. Don’t judge, it stifles honest communications. Always be honest but coat it with kindness.
Don’t harp on how much better things were when you were young. Your glory days are treasured memories, but they don’t translate well across the generations. Cultures evolve, and it’s up to each generation to curate their own.
These young adults grew up as digital natives, it’s as much a part of their life as the telephone was to us. Don’t criticize social media. It’s how they engage. It may seem impersonal and foreign to you, but it works for them.
And finally, understand you are not peers. There will always be years between you, varied perspectives and life experiences. Celebrate the differences, allow them to open you to new ways of seeing the world. Having the courage to join in and be an active participant in a young and modern world isn’t always easy, but if you take the plunge, your life will be significantly enriched by the experience.
How old is your youngest friend? How did you get acquainted? What hobbies do you share? Do you do any of them together? Have you shown this young person that one can be a vital and active woman beyond 60? Let’s have a conversation!
Let’s Have a Conversation!